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Teaching Photosynthesis for Middle School

The middle school standards for science want students to understand that photosynthesis is the beginning of the flow of energy through the food chain.

NGSS MS-LS1-6. Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for the role of photosynthesis in the cycling of matter and flow of energy into and out of organisms.

Utah SEEd
Plan and conduct an investigation and use the evidence to construct an explanation of how photosynthetic organisms use energy to transform matter. Emphasize molecular and energy transformations during photosynthesis.
Ask questions to obtain, evaluate, and communicate information about how changes to an ecosystem affect the stability of cycling matter and the flow of energy among living and nonliving parts of an ecosystem. Emphasize describing the cycling of matter and flow of energy through the carbon cycle.

Students need to first understand the basics of how photosynthesis works.  Some of the chemistry and specifics will be delved into more deeply when students are in high school.

Students in middle school should understand that:
  • photosynthesis takes place in the chloroplasts in the leaf
  • Light energy is absorbed by chlorophyll, a green substance found in chloroplasts in some plant cells and algae
    • Absorbed light energy is used to convert carbon dioxide (from the air) and water (from the soil) into a sugar called glucose
    • Oxygen is released as a by-product
    • Photosynthesis is the single most important chemical process on the earth.
    • Almost all plants needs the sun in order to survive.
    • Plants produce oxygen during this process and utilize carbon dioxide.
    • All people and animals need oxygen to survive.
    • photosynthesis takes place in the chloroplasts in the leaf
    I think this is a great opportunity for students to practice some science skills:
    • Setting up fair tests
    • arguing from evidence
    • supporting claims with evidence
    • critical thinking
    • making a model to explain thinking
    Once students understand the basics, the emphasis should be on how energy moves through the food chain starting with the sun and moving into plants and then up the food chain as it is consumed.

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